How I Chose A New Mobile Phone (Features That Mattered To Me)

A few months ago, it was that time again.

With a custom ROM, app upgrades and growing data for each of the apps used, my old phone had slowed down to a crawl. 256MB was just not enough anymore. The processor was a couple of generations old and I’d managed to drop it and crack the screen. To its credit, it continued to work with that screen and in fact still does. I was also amazed to know that there’s a sizeable population in the world that sees no real need to replace a screen just because it’s cracked.

So began the hunt for a new phone.

To be honest, it was not a clean “start”. The older phone still does duty and apart from the occasional freeze-up, there was no pressing need. So it happened over time, but I found myself once more interested in specs and features, in reviews of new models and deals on them across stores online.

In smartphone-time, 2 years is forever!

how-to-choose-a-phone

What OS?

I was by default looking for an Android, so that much was easy. Of course, it doesn’t help that 80% of new phones shipped are Androids! The choice was between ICS and Jelly Bean, and I was pretty happy with my Gingerbread equivalent of CyanogenMod I’d installed on the older phone. I had no specific preference.

One thing I did know – after having seen the pain the average custom skinning causes – that I would appreciate a vanilla Android version over the bells and whistles forced upon us by manufacturers.

Budget

Ever since phones stopped being as robust and long-lived as the early Nokias were, and after having lost a couple to carelessness or premature ageing, I’ve been extremely wary of big spends on phones. Thankfully, the mid-range mobile market has a dazzling array of Android options. I soon fixed an upper ceiling of Rs.15k on my spend, with a strong bias towards 10k. Of course, I’d need to spend on a memory card as well.

To be honest, the by-now very popular Micromax Canvas had a role to play in the budget decision. It redefined value for money even vis-a-vis much more renowned, power packed rivals such as the top end of the bewildering Galaxy range! It just did not make sense to buy a 11k Galaxy with a much poorer spec any longer.

Screen : Size Matters

A 4” screen was by now considered relatively small! “Phablets” had already entered the consumer-tech lexicon and it was only the limitation the size that my average trouser-rear-pocket posed that restricted me to a sub-5” choice. Out went the very popular Micromax Canvas and a couple of similar ones from other manufacturers.

There’s a lot of marketing and advertising built around screen resolution. AMOLED, IPS, QHD, ‘even better’ PPI, etc. It’s all very compelling, and confusing.

Frankly, compared to the TFT capacitive touchscreen, 256K colors, 320 x 480, 3.2 inches (~180 ppi pixel density) screen I’d been using, ALL of these were pretty awesome. And my video usage, or the frequency of playing games, or of other uses where I’d – well – sorely miss a higher resolution screen was  low enough for me to not particularly care. Enough reviews suggested that I’d be pretty happy with most phones with respect to the screen, even in sunlight.

I could make my peace with whatever PPI I got 🙂

Processor and RAM

The primary reason of looking at a new phone was performance. There’s a lot of literature around how Android manages the apps memory requirement such that they should continue to work well even on older phones, but hey, all new code was probably just written and tested on newer processors with at least 512MB of RAM. So I decided to not settle for anything lesser if I could afford it. Dual cores 1-1.2GHz processors from both Qualcomm and Mediatek were popular enough with reviewers reporting hardly any lag even from budget phones.

Quad cores were starting to make an appearance, but I still cannot figure out for the life of me if the extra cores serve any real world purpose over the dual cores. Any extra RAM, of course, would be very welcome.

Battery

Now this was important to me. I travel a fair bit to places with unreliable power and varying signal strength. My earlier phone – that used to last for a day easily in Bangalore – usually croaked in half the time while travelling. I’d even bought a power bank to solve that problem!

So when I read that the Xolo Q800’s 2100 mAh battery offered 16 hours of talk time on 2G, I was very very curious about the phone!

Camera, GPS and All That Jazz

I hardly used the older phone for taking pictures – ever. The fact that I probably got a lemon – camera wise – didn’t help that cause much, but I did not miss that too much. So anything that could take ok daytime pictures was just great for me. I’d read and experienced enough about GPS and mapping on Android to figure out that data connectivity was more of a critical factor, and that usually worked ok across phones. GPS itself was a function of the price-bracket of the phones you were looking at, and of the OS version (at least from an unresolved bugs point of view). Again, no biggie, personally.

Service and Reliability

Most budget Androids are rebadged Chinese handsets. The mid-range ones are the better built amongst them. And none of the Indian manufacturers had a great reputation for after sales.

On the other hand, I’d started hearing of not such great things about the entry level Samsungs, and despite my issues with my Motorola, never sought their service center out. So while it was an important consideration in theory, service levels did not weigh too heavily on my mind.

Appeal

Let’s be honest here – a phone is as much about its form and visual appeal as its about it’s function.

Many of the budget options were already starting to be mistaken for the then-premium offerings. Xolo – which was now starting to climb the list of options – was actually very decent looking if safe, and Lava had taken good care to establish a premium around the brand.

Decision

There were 2 contenders in the end – the sub 8k Xolo A700, and the 12.5k Xolo Q800. Both were excellent value for money. The latter was a 1GB RAM, quad core option. But the former – a 512MB dual core – was very compelling too given that I was on a tight budget!

After about a week of hoping for a great deal or price drop, and once nearly having ordered the A700, I came across someone selling a week old Q800 after having reviewed it professionally! I saved a decent amount of cash on that one 🙂 (Now, of course, it’s cheaper still!)

Phew! 6 months on, am pretty pleased with the device and am hoping the RAM proves sufficient and phone durable enough for 2-3 years at least. The agony of buying a new device all over again isn’t something I’m looking forward to anytime soon again.

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